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Young but Ready to Lead: An interview with Austin Petersen Libertarian Presidential Candidate

Yesterday I sat down with the Editor-in-Chief of The Libertarian Republic and Libertarian Party presidential candidate, Austin Petersen, to clarify his political positions and to discuss his thoughts on the current election.

LibertyBuzz: Can you explain to our readers who you are and what you have done to prepare yourself for the presidency?

Austin Petersen: I am Austin Petersen, presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party and I have been fighting in the trenches for limited government causes almost everyday for the last ten years. I started my professional career working for the Libertarian Party as a national volunteer coordinator. I worked for their presidential campaign. After that, I worked for an international Libertarian think tank called Atlas where I taught libertarians, in countries like Russia, Brazil, Malaysia, China, and others, how to spread libertarian movements in their countries. After that, subsequently, I began television producing at the Fox Business Network in New York City where I produced a show called Freedom Watch on the Fox Business Network starring Judge Andrew Napolitano. Then I moved back to Washington D.C. after the cancellation of that show to work for a Tea Party institution called Freedom Works, and I was the director of production there and executive. Then, after that, I started my own business, and I’ve been running one of the most popular libertarian news magazines for three years.

LB: If you had five sentences to explain what your campaign is about, what would you say?

AP: Taking over government to leave everyone alone.

LB: What can you offer young people to compete with Sanders’ promises of free government programs?

AP: Well, I can’t offer young people free stuff, but I can offer them free-dom. Free stuff generally comes with strings. The question is: What are you going to pay, in other ways, for the loss of freedom. You’re going to pay dearly, through the nose, in terms of your paycheck. One day, when you’re earning a higher salary, you might think twice about how extensive all these government programs are when it’s being taken out of your paycheck. And the question is, you know- Let’s see, how can I compare this? Birds kept in cages, golden cages, are still in cages. Humans weren’t meant to serve the collective or serve the government. They were meant to be free individuals. So, I guess I can say to them that the is the question is: What price will you give your freedom?

LB: Why do you think the Libertarian Party isn’t as popular as the Democratic or Republican parties? Also, what can Libertarian voters do to make the movement stronger?

AP: Well, most people ascern that if you vote for a Libertarian, it’s a wasted vote, but that’s not true. And the reason why is because if you do believe in Libertarian principles and you want to affect a generational libertarian movement, then voting for someone who is a libertarian on the ballot could potentially grant them ballot access, meaning that you create a generational Liberty movement by opening up the ballot for other libertarians by achieving a certain percentage of the national vote. If a presidential candidate achieves about five percent, approximately five percent, of the national vote, that will trigger ballot access across many states which will allow more libertarians to run for office. It also triggers federal matching funds, which is actually not welfare, if you understand it completely. Federal matching funds are given away voluntarily. A  new third party would achieve major party status simply by achieving five percent in national elections. You actually create real, democratic change by voting for a Libertarian, even if the candidate doesn’t actually win the election outright.

Sen. Rand Paul

LB: Please explain your thoughts on Sen. Rand Paul and his decision to stay in the Republican Party.

AP: Different structure, different folks. Everyone has a different strategy to advance liberty. I’ve always liked Rand Paul, and he stood with us when he filibustered President Obama’s CIA pick, fought against the unconstitutional wiretapping programs, and fought to overturn the Patriot Act. I think he’s a pretty darn good libertarian, and I really don’t care what people say about parties because principles are what matter.

LB: What would you say to voters who were upset about the way Libertarian media represented Sen. Paul’s campaign?

AP: You know, sometimes libertarianism becomes a bit hipster, where if it goes mainstream, then it’s not cool. A lot of libertarians, sometimes, will use libertarianism or libertarian groups as an outlet because of their social anxiety. In order for you to arrive at a conclusion of libertarianism, it does often require study, it does require a keen intellect. People who spend a lot of time studying or have keen intellects, not always, will often askew social interactions. Politics is a social art, and so libertarians, because we tend to be wonky or nerdy, we’re going to despise people who have social skills out of jealousy or out of an inability to perceive proper social cues, body language, etc. This might be one of the reasons we have so many problems attracting women because the men of our movement are unable to pick up on body language and to understand when, perhaps, they’re being awkward, and to be able to communicate better. A lot of the anger at Rand Paul isn’t a principle issue. They try to make it an issue of principles, but very rarely do they have good points on that. Generally, it devolves into the fact that it’s becoming too mainstream, they call him a sellout. I totally disagree with these mischaracterizations. I’ve disagreed with Rand Paul on a couple of policy issues here and there, but that doesn’t make him a sellout.

LB: You mentioned, briefly, women in the Libertarian Party. What have you done to attract more women voters to your campaign?

AP: That’s a good question. Here’s the truth: I have not done anything specifically to attract women voters, but for some reason, I have attracted a lot of women voters. Yesterday, one of my biggest donors and supporters said that it’s maybe because I seem a bit boyish, because it brings out the “mama grizzly” in her, and she feels the need to protect me. laughs But for some reason I do have a large quantity of female donors. Single mothers, and a lot of Hispanic women, actually are supporting me and my volunteers. We have quite a few women on our campaign team, so I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because I don’t try to pander to women specifically, that they don’t see me as being condescending. Maybe it’s just because of the aura the aura I project that is attractive to them, but to be honest, I have not specifically catered or pandered to female voters. When you compare my demographics side by side to the other libertarian candidates, I’ll bet that it’s a much higher percentage of females than any other group.

Black Lives Matter Protestors
Black Lives Matter Protesters

LB: What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, and what would you do to address inequalities people of color face in the criminal justice system?

AP: In honesty, I believe that the Black Lives Matter movement started out with the best of intentions, kind of like the Tea Party did. I saw real potential for them to enact democratic change, but then I saw them becoming subsumed by, co-opted by, the establishment of the left, whereas the Tea Party were hijacked by conservative interests and establishment conservative interests that sort of monetized and turned them into a machine, whereas with Black Lives Matter, we saw them being co-opted by Al Sharpton and the usual subjects over at MSNBC. So I was a little disappointed in how the Black Lives Matter movement lost their focus. But, what am I doing specifically to attract people of different demographics? Again, I guess- I don’t know how I am, but I do have a lot of minorities supporting me, people like Eric July, and I do have some college professors who are following me, and these are people who leftists, many of them former leftists who are supporting my campaign because there’s no bigotry behind my viewpoints. There’s no history of racism in any of my work, and they see me as, and maybe it’s because they see the Liberty message I’m pushing as one that unites people of all different colors, but I do have a lot of minorities who are supporting my campaign, and we see that in my demographic reports. Mostly Hispanics, I think they’re the largest minority that we have and then women second, but we do have some African Americans as well. Libertarians do struggle with that, but maybe it’s because of how we shape our message, because of some of our histories, our sketchy histories in the past, but since I’m so young, I haven’t lived long enough to have a sketchy history.  

LB: In your view, what is the No. 1 reason to not vote for Donald Trump?

AP: Good question. What is the No. 1 reason? Well there are so many. Well the question is that, uh, do you want a strongman? Do you love the boot heel? Do you want a free country, or do you want to live under authoritarianism? So I would say don’t vote for Donald Trump because we’re supposed to be the land of the free. Trump tries to return us back to, almost, the Italian fascist model. Where if you don’t want a government that can force businesses to move around the country or to try and force businesses to do things like move their factories overseas back to the United States, which is absolutely tyrannical, then don’t vote for Donald Trump. If you want a strongman, if you want an authoritarian, if you want the boot on your neck, then, yeah, vote for Donald Trump. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, we ask not for your counsel nor your arms. Make history forget you were our countrymen is what I say to anyone who wants the boot heel.

LB: Tell us one critical issue you believe deserves more attention than it’s currently receiving. How would you solve that problem?

AP: My issue that I like to talk about that is not getting enough traction is the issue of the Federal Reserve, monetary policy, and the role money plays in our society. I like to talk about the Federal Reserve because money lies at the very heart of our economy. Very few people know quite much about how it works. I sometimes make the nerdy economist joke that monetary policy is the story of how money is created and fiscal policy, which is in taxes and spending, is the story of how it is destroyed. When it comes to monetary policy, it is very important that we as Libertarians stand up against a restrictionist monetary policy such as we have. And when I say restrictionist, I’m not talking about we need to force the Fed to inflate. I’m talking about one that restricts our choices in money. Most of the Austrian scholars tend to believe that we should get rid of the forced fractional year system that we have now in order to allow competition because the trading of money is one of the most peaceful activities that humans can ever engage in. If free people are trading money among themselves, they should be able to decide what currency they’d like to use. Right now we have a system, a unitary system, that forces us into a sort of monopoly. And I think people should be allowed to choose the currency they would like to use. The point is is that libertarians believe in a free market in money and the idea is is that we should allow competition to the Federal Reserve. That is what I think is really one of the big issues that most people are not talking about.

Libertarian Party Seal
Libertarian Party Seal

LB: Which of your stances makes you stand out from the rest of the Libertarian Party candidates?

AP: Probably my most controversial stance, that I believe that a fetus is a human being, that I believe that all human beings deserve the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And for some reason, it’s controversial that I suggest that we should have personal responsibility so that we have less abortions. I don’t understand why some people can argue that it’s not a human, and they try and say it’s a parasite. And it shows the intellectual dishonesty on the part of some people because they try and paint me as a social conservative, which I am not. I am very socially liberal. I just happen to come to the pro-life stance through a deduction of logic and a use of reason. And I don’t understand why some people seem to think that more abortions are a good thing. I think abortions are a bad thing, we should try to avoid them, and try to find ways to stop them as much as we can. So that is the one issue that gets me in trouble, but I stand firm on it because I’m not running to please a narrow special interest. I’m running to advance libertarianism as I understand it.

LB: Your stance on defending life is that America must have a “consistent pro-life ethic.” Does this mean banning all abortions, including cases of rape, incest, etc.?

AP: Well, the question is: Does the president have the authority to do that? And the answer to that question is no. The president does not have the authority to do that because murder is a state issue. However, it is murder, and if I was running as governor, would I ban abortions? I would because I do believe it is murder. But I do understand that the checks and balances of power mean that the state should have the right to decide these things. My concept of federalism would not allow me to issue a blanket ban on murder because that’s simply not within my authority. But I do believe that it is wrong and that it is a human child no matter what. This doesn’t come from- I’m not getting this whispered into my ear from my religious sensibilities because I have none. This is a purely secular view of what I believe, and I believe it is a human being no matter what. And you know what? There are humans who are alive today who were the product of rape, probably not a lot of them, but there are humans alive today, and if you go around and you ask them if they would have preferred to be aborted, I imagine most of them would say no.

LB: Do you think experience with holding political office is an important prerequisite for becoming president? If not, how should voters evaluate each candidate?

AP: This a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation for me because most people say that they don’t like career politicians or they’re tired of career politicians, but then when someone runs who is not a career politician, then they excoriate them for not having experience in government. Gov. Johnson, who is my main opponent for this nomination, ran for governor of his state and he had never been in office before. I’m sure he had plenty of people telling him that he should run for lower office before he tries for governor, but he went ahead and did it anyway. Sometimes a man who meets his moment- When you look at the long arc of history, when certain men ran for office, it wasn’t just a simple path to the nomination, they didn’t just stand up and say “Oh this is going to be- This was perfect. You know, this is going to be- You know, this was the perfect thing for me to do at this time.” Sometimes when you look at how history works, timing is important and critical, and at this point in history, I saw myself as having an opportunity to advance this cause because we had so few champions. We were standing up and fighting for it. So, whether or not I have enough relevant experience, that’s going to be up to the people of the United States. If I win the nomination of this party, then there’s absolutely going to be criticism leveled at me. But I’ve never backed down from any challenges before this and I’m putting myself forward because I think I’m ready. That’ll be up for the voters to decide.

LB: What are your thoughts on climate change, and how will you address the problems associated with it?

AP: Well, whether or not climate change is real or not, the government should have no role. I think it’s arrogant to assume that a small body of individuals are somehow going to create a policy that will affect the entire planet. And the reality is that the United States isn’t even the largest polluter. India, China they are the ones who hold the mantle. So, exactly how tyrannical of a government are we going to need to have in order to force other countries to come in line with environmental policy that would somehow turn the tide. Climate change has been occurring way before man ever populated the Earth, and it will happen way after man populates the Earth. Probably, our best bet, if you are concerned about the destruction of the entire country or the world, then you had probably better focus on things like private space travel. Build yourself a space ship and blast off to another planet where you can a bunch of lunatic liberals up and create a one-world, statist all-powerful government. See how well that treats you. And leave the rest of us on Earth to our business and do as we please.

LB: Do you believe in climate change?

AP: I don’t really know, to be quite honest. Most of the scientists that I read that I trust seem to state that there is some global warming. The question is whether or not it is anthropogenic, meaning is it caused by humans. There is actually some scientific debate over that because in volcanoes, as we understand it, are the greatest producers of CO2 on the planet, so unless we plan to stop up all of the volcanoes from spewing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, then I’m not sure what sort of plan they want. In terms of what we can do to solve humanity’s problems, the reality is is that we have bigger problems than climate change. We have starvation, we have malaria, and other diseases, like HIV/AIDS, that are much greater problems to human survival than climate change. Climate change would be way down the list. If it is a problem, then most scientists that I’ve read of would place the more pressing obligations as those which we have an actual chance to solve in the short term.

LB: If you were not running for president, which one of the remaining candidates would you vote for? Why?

AP: Well, at this point, I’m leaning towards John McAfee, but I haven’t decided yet.

LB: On your website, under the issue “restoring health freedom” you say you aim to overturn Obamacare and allow people to seek out market alternatives to healthcare. What would that look like, and how can we (or should we) ensure that all Americans have reasonable access to health services?

AP: Well, the question is, do you believe it’s possible to create a system whereby every single person can get healthcare always. The cold, hard truth is is that there is no perfect system. Utopian socialists will tell you “oh no, but in Britain everyone has access to healthcare.” Well, that’s not true. Actually, there was a nineteen year old woman who just died recently from cervical cancer. She was not able to get a pap smear because they don’t grant pap smears in the NHS until you’re twenty-one years old, which was too late to save this woman’s life. So she wasn’t able to get healthcare. In a free market, people can seek out the type of care that they want. And here’s why I think that a free market in healthcare is superior: If you take a look at eye surgery as your example, ten years ago, eye surgery was very expensive and it was not very efficient. Sometimes it regressed. But it’s an elective procedure. It’s something that you have to pay for out of pocket. So what has happened in the last ten years? Well, the price of eye surgery has come down, and the quality of eye surgery has come up. The market has been allowed to operate. I would like to see what happens with eye surgery for the rest of our health system.

LB: How do you feel about your performance in the Fox Business News’ Libertarian Forum? What was your favorite moment? And what was something you wanted to talk about but did not get the chance to?

AP: Well, I felt very strongly about my performance, which is good because I went in a little nervous. Then, when I got into it, I felt like I really broke stride, and I was able to bat away some of the criticisms of me about my age, responding with how old the Founding Fathers were when they created this nation, which is younger than I was, than I am. I won all of the post debate polls, including John Stossel’s own poll by almost fifty percent. So I felt great, and I’m really excited about the second half of it. I’m also really excited about the issue that came out because we had a big kerfuffle over the issue of property rights and whether or not A Jewish baker should be forced to bake a Nazi cake. Strangely enough, my opponent agreed that, for some reason, he thinks that Jews should be forced to bake Nazi cakes. Which is hilarious, one, but two, shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the free market as well as the fundamental lack of understanding about the law, which is Title II. We have protected classes in the United States: African Americans, women, certain other minorities, haven’t quite made sexuality a protected status just yet, but I assume that will come in the future. Gov. Johnson seems to think Nazis are a protected class, which they are not. I hope we can get some clarification on this one, which I will try and seek out from him in the coming debates. That was an interesting issue that arose. But one of the ones that didn’t come up…? We covered most of them. Again, monetary policy, the Federal Reserve- I would have liked to talk about the United Nations. Gov. Johnson seems to think we should remain in the United Nations. I’m opposed to these kinds of supranational entities. That would have been a big issue. Also, GMOs. The question of whether or not the government should be forcing GMO producers to label their products through threat of taxation. To me, I think it is wrong for the government to intervene because people should choose which products they want, not based on labeling laws, but based on the free market, and that is an issue where Gov. Johnson and I disagree. So I would’ve liked to see those issues to come up so we could have a discussion about those, and I can educate the American people on the free market response to this, but we didn’t get to talk about those.

LB: Last Friday marked the first nationally televised Libertarian “debate,” which is a huge step forward for the party. Where, do you think, the Liberty Movement needs to grow next?

AP: Media. We need more libertarian media. I know it seems like we’re saturated, but we need more good, credible media outlets. Right now, the left owns the culture. We need to have more of a cultural place, so I would encourage more libertarians to follow my lead and to start their own websites and their podcasts, to get themselves on the television and hone their craft, and start advancing the agenda of liberty through the media.

LB: Do you plan on addressing mental health issues outside of reclassifying the war on drugs? If so, what will you do?

APSo the question is abnormal psyche. Do we need to have mental health facilities like Ronald Reagan did? Or do we need to put them in prison if they’re a danger to society? And the reality is that I don’t have a good answer for that simply because, from what I understand, there doesn’t seem to be a very good solution that has been proposed. So, I would have to sit down with my council of economic advisers and criminal justice advisers to find what I believe is the most humane, most libertarian solution to the problems of abnormal psyche. Some people believe that a minimal safety net for the criminally insane would be necessary in order for us to have a functional society. But because I’m wasn’t a criminal justice major, I’d have to rely on my team of security professionals. I have not been able to make a firm decision on what the best way to go is because it seems like it’s nothing but the decision of the lesser of two evils, and I haven’t decided what the lesser evil is yet.


LB: Your stance on immigration contrasts sharply with many Republican candidates. How would you address safety and economic concerns?

APSo, it’s not really an economic concern unless you have a very narrow special interest that you’re trying to protect because the reality is that a free market in labor is just as effective as a free market in commodities. A free market drives down the cost of goods and services, which is a good thing. No one wants to pay ten dollars for a cheeseburger. I think we need to have more worker visas, more student visas, and we need to be a melting pot and the nation of immigrants that we are. My family were immigrants, the Petersens, coming over from Denmark, and we came seeking a land of opportunity, so we need to make those opportunities available. We need to incentivize legal immigration by making a simpler path to naturalization. Right now, it’s too burdensome and too difficult.

LB: Do you have any last thoughts on the current election that weren’t addressed in any other question? If so, what are they?

APWell, I just hope that the American citizens will take a good, hard look at a third party choice this year because I think that if you look at the choices that we have in the two major parties, we’re getting a pretty raw deal as Americans. This could be a historic year for a third party, so I hope that Americans will wake up and take a look at what the LP has to offer, whether it’s me or Gov. Johnson or John McAfee or whoever, I’ll hope they’ll give them a fair shake and a fair hearing. No one is perfect. There is no perfect candidate, but I do believe the pros outweigh the cons in voting for a third party this year.

If you want to learn more about or contribute to Mr. Petersen’s campaign, you can visit his website here. What are your thoughts on his answers? Share your opinion in the comments below!

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